As soon as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Dallas Cowboys' intentions to draft Ohio State Buckeyes Running Back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick, the projections for his rookie season numbers began.
Fans, analysts, and writers alike all began predicting incredible feats for Zeke's rookie year. We heard it all from 2,000 yards to being a lock for Rookie of the Year. It was almost impossible to temper our excitement and expectations.
But, without reeling in our expectations a bit is it possible we are setting Zeke up for failure before he even takes a snap as a Cowboy?
Listen, there is no question that Ezekiel Elliott is the front runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and I also think there is no question he is poised to have a fantastic rookie season, but do we need to define what "fantastic" will really be?
Immediately we want to think he will surpass DeMarco Murray's 2014 mark of 1,845 yards and lead the league in rushing. He's a better back than Murray, so why shouldn't he?
There is no doubt in our minds he will eclipse Darren McFadden's 1,089 yards from a season ago. Once again, he is a much better back than McFadden, so why shouldn't he?
The answer may very well be as simple as, "because he's a rookie."
I am a firm believer that in order to know where you're going, you need to know where you've been. Or in this case, it is important to know how other highly touted running backs have faired during their rookie seasons.
Here is a list of each running back drafted in the top ten of their respective draft over the past decade, and how they faired during their rookie campaign.
So, since 2006 there have been six running backs taken in the top 10 of the draft. The average rushing totals for their rookie season are 790 yards on 179 carries.
I think we can all agree that if those are Zeke's totals for 2016, the season will end in disappointment both for the Cowboys and for Elliott. Luckily, I don't think average stats of six distinct backs tell much of a story.
As a prospective back, Elliott compares most favorably to the likes of Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson, who each won Offensive Rookie of the Year and rushed for over 1,000 yards during their rookie seasons.
The problem then lies within the numbers of these particular seasons. If Ezekiel Elliott has an identical year to Adrian Peterson, he will rush for only 252 more yards than Darren McFadden did a season ago. He would also do so while presumably starting five more games than McFadden did in 2015.
Cowboys' fans may not love that. They may even view these type of numbers as lackluster, due to the incredible expectations which have been set.
This is why some believe we need to set realistic expectations for what Ezekiel Elliott can do in 2016. I usually don't love Pro Football Focus, but their projection for Elliott fits perfectly into the historical context of early first round running backs.
Ezekiel Elliott 2016 projection: 273 carries, 1168 yards, 9 TDs. 36 catches, 380 yards, 2 TDs. #RB1
No, it would not be a dramatic improvement from what the Cowboys got out of McFadden a season ago, but his yardage should come with more meaning and impact than McFadden's did.
And, like I stated earlier, it would fit perfectly into the historical context of good rookie seasons for running backs.
The difference that comes with projecting Zeke is that his situation is not similar to any of those other backs.
In fact, I believe that Zeke has a chance to put up better numbers than all of the players listed in the chart. He will, hopefully, appear in more games than Gurley, and he will be playing behind a better offensive line and with a more explosive offense than Peterson.
Outside of Reggie Bush, Zeke will be able to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield much more than each of the previous top 10 backs did, and this gives him an edge in his projected impact as well.
His ability to pass block also guarantees he will play more snaps than some of the other rookies have, giving him more opportunities to make his impact felt on Sundays.
These low rushing totals for rookies are skewed partially due to the teams that the players were drafted to play for. When you're taken in the top 10 of any draft, you are usually not joining an offense that contributed three offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl a season ago. Also, you are usually not joining an offense with a top tier receiver or a high caliber quarterback.
Ezekiel Elliott is. And it is for these reasons, that the past rushing totals of rookie running backs and the historical context of what to expect from Zeke in 2016 are flawed.
The Cowboys' situation is different from those past teams, and their new running back is much different than those past backs. Expect big things from Elliott in 2016.
2018 NFL Draft: Dallas Cowboys Meeting with Texas Safety DeShon Elliott
With more pressing needs on offense at guard and wide receiver, and defensively at DE or LB, the Cowboys' concerning lack of proven ability at safety has taken a backseat in this offseason's roster build. With the expectation that new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard will elevate the play of the entire Cowboys' secondary, the team is doing their due diligence on safeties available in the 2018 NFL Draft - starting with Texas' DeShon Elliott.
It appears Texas S DeShon Elliott is visiting the #Cowboys today
With 63 tackles and six interceptions in his final season at Texas, Elliott took full advantage of being a starter in the Big 12 for the first time in his career, flying onto the NFL Draft scene.
Elliott is a well-balanced, average athlete with the upside to be targeted late in April's draft and make a difference.
If they had to play a game tomorrow, the Cowboys would be rolling with Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier at safety.
Finding an expanded role this season for Frazier should be a priority in Dallas, as should supplementing Heath and Woods with additional talent. DeShon Elliott would fit this group well, along with the Cowboys' scheme, given his range and disruptive ability.
Should Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and now Byron Jones help the Cowboys reach their full potential at CB, the Cowboys safeties will not be tested in single coverage up the field often. This is an area that Elliott was exploited in at Texas plenty of times, performing better as a true free safety or second-level player.
Continuing to add young talent at the right price is key to the Cowboys' ongoing rebuild on defense, now visiting with a local safety prospect that should be available to them in the later rounds. Texas' DeShon Elliott is officially a name to consider come draft week in Dallas.
Cowboys Draft: PSU WR DaeSean Hamilton Fits Cowboys’ “Type”
Last week, I detailed what the Cowboys tend to look for when drafting a wide receiver. In terms of a combine profile, Dallas clearly has a "type" of wide-out they like to target.
The Cowboys certainly need to upgrade their receiving corps, but with the plethora of other holes to fill, they may not be able to do so until the 3rd or 4th round. Luckily for the Cowboys, there is at least one receiver which both fits their profile and should be available early on day three.
That player is Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton.
Working on something for @InsideTheStarDC... here's the height, weight, 40 time, and 3 cone for every WR DAL has taken since 2010.
First, let's re-examine what the Cowboys like to look for. As you can see from the above graphic, the Cowboys draft targets all seem to fit a similar profile. If we treat Dez Bryant as their "ideal" draft pick, the trends become even clearer. Dallas wants to find a wide-out who is about 6'1" 205 pounds, runs nearly a 4.5 40 yard dash, and about a 6.9 three come time.
DeaSean Hamilton, coincidentally, is 6'1" 203 pounds, ran a 4.47 40 yard dash at the Penn State pro day, and ran a 6.84 three cone at the combine. Penn State's all time receptions leader stole the show at the 2018 Senior Bowl, putting all of "Draft Twitter" on notice to his talent.
An efficient and smooth route runner, Hamilton looks natural coming in and out of breaks, creating separation with his precise routes. The Cowboys don't have many receivers on their roster who can win with their route running, and adding a player like Hamilton would greatly help third year quarterback Dak Prescott moving forward.
With the ability to play in the slot, as well as potentially being a Z receiver for the Cowboys and a replacement for Terrance Williams, Hamilton would be an excellent draft target in the third or fourth round. And, keeping in mind how nicely he fits their typical draft profile, I'd expect Dallas to target Hamilton during the 2018 NFL Draft.
Dallas Cowboys Mock Drafts Address Needs at 3 Different Positions
"Tier two" of NFL Free Agency is here, meaning the Dallas Cowboys can set their sights on adding depth and filling the holes left by departed FAs Anthony Hitchens and Jonathan Cooper.
It may take another week for mock drafts to reflect the losses of both starters by the Cowboys, but the ongoing draft process does not slow down at any point. A few of the names the Cowboys will bring in for pre-draft 30 visits have already been released, and this week's roundup of national mock drafts continues to address the overall needs on this Dallas roster.
CBS Sports: Calvin Ridley, WR - Alabama
"Ridley's stock is down after an unimpressive combine, but the Cowboys decided to use one of their predraft visits on the talented wideout, who might not fall any further than this pick. Considering wide receiver is one of the team's biggest needs, they could jump at the chance to draft Ridley, who could eventually take over the No. 1 role if the Cowboys move on from Dez Bryant next offseason, which would save them more than $12 million on the cap."
The Dallas Cowboys will be meeting with free agent WR Allen Hurns today, a tangible second receiver that could immediately upgrade Terrance Williams' position. Hurns, unlike the lesser-known pass catchers the Cowboys looked at previously in free agency, may have enough talent entering his fifth season to take Calvin Ridley out of consideration in the first round.
For now, Ridley should absolutely remain in the conversation as this draft's top receiver. Frequently finding his way to the Cowboys in many post-Combine mock drafts, the Alabama star is just getting started in reaching his football potential and becoming an option for Dak Prescott on the outside.
Draft Wire: Vita Vea, DT - Washington
"Vea could realistically go higher than No. 19, but there may not be a ton of teams willing to draft a nose tackle early on in the draft. Vea’s much different from the average nose tackle, though, which is something the Cowboys would see firsthand if they were to pick him."
The hype for Vita Vea as a prospective Dallas Cowboys target has died down ever since Stephen Jones mentioned the team's preference to find 1T DTs with the traits to also rush the passer as a 3T. Simply being "different from the average nose tackle," as Infante writes here, may not be enough for Vea to be selected at 19th overall by the Cowboys.
Should the Cowboys be surprisingly wiped out at both guard and linebacker on their board, considering a rare prospect like Vea and the impact he could make in Rod Marinelli's scheme could become much more realistic though.
An investment like Vea at nose tackle feels like the safest way for the Cowboys to protect their franchise tag investment on DE DeMarcus Lawrence - while also potentially boosting the play of Maliek Collins and David Irving inside at DT.
Drafttek: Isaiah Wynn, G - Georgia
"... Isaiah Wynn played LOT for the SEC Champion and National Champion runner-up Georgia Bulldogs. Bill O'Brien's South coaching staff moved Wynn inside and he was easily the most impressive interior OL prospect during practice sessions..."
This would be one of the highest value picks the Dallas Cowboys could make at 19th overall. As it stands today, this team is in need of a starting left guard they can trust, which Isaiah Wynn can be from day one at the next level.
Despite their clear need up front, using another first round pick on an offensive lineman will surely generate some eyes rolls around Dallas on draft night. As if his mauling style of play and NFL-ready build aren't enough for the Cowboys to sell their fans on Wynn, his flexibility to provide needed depth at OT puts this Georgia product over the top.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Recent trades by the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills to shake up the draft order may just be scratching the surface for the run of quarterbacks that takes place annually atop each draft. With as many as five QBs coming off the board prior to the Cowboys' first pick, their ability to add a quality starter at a position of need looks good.
Exactly what these positions of need will be by the end of free agency, and which prospects fill needs in Dallas, will update weekly as we continue to prepare you for the 2018 NFL Draft here at Inside The Star.
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